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World Press Freedom Review
2004 World Press Freedom Review
The Czech mass media are independent and press freedom in the Czech Republic is not in question, however, regulatory bodies are weak and political and commercial pressure strong, thus the Czech media are not always viewed as impartial.
For example, in January, the new general director of Czech TV, Jiri Janecek, apologised to the lottery company Sazka, a major advertiser, for a news story that took place three years ago. The Czech TV piece said that Sazka had been under police investigation for dubious business practices. Sazka sued Czech TV, but lost the case. Janecek's announcement that he intends to apologise for the story resulted in public outcry over the apparent influence of the prominent advertiser.
Investigative reporting is not highly developed because most media do not or are not able to allocate sufficient resources for investigative work. Some media owners prefer not to jeopardise relations with financial investors. Media that do run serious pieces are, for example, Respekt, Mlada fronta Dnes (MFD), Czech TV, and TV Nova. In one case in the summer of 2003, some high-profile reporters left the Mlada fronta Dnes, because the MFD's management postponed the publication of an article, which criticised politicians attending the country's largest film festival. The newspaper was a "media partner" for the festival, and the journalists, reportedly, claimed that business interests manipulated coverage of the event, which management denied.
One newspaper seemed to be targeted directly for its critical reporting. Two men attacked Tomas Nemecek, editor-in-chief of the weekly Respekt on 17 January near his flat in Prague. They attacked him with tear gas and then beat him. The attackers did not say anything, nor did they rob him. The journalist had to be hospitalised.
Nemecek's colleagues believe that the attack was premeditated and targeted the newspaper, whose critical articles caused problems for some politicians and businessmen. It also published a series of articles about a criminal gang in northern Bohemia, and the police's failure to take action against the gang. According to an RSF report, on 18 January, a gang member called a journalist with the weekly, who did not want to be identified, and threatened to attack him if he wrote an article on the gang.
Vladimir Zelezny's battle for the control of the country's most popular commercial TV station Nova continued in 2004. Nova went on the air in February 1994.
Zelezny's company CET 21 started out in partnership with US businessman Ronald Lauder's Central European Media Enterprises (CME), which owned the TV Nova production company CNTS. The problems started in 1999, when Vladimir Zelezny interests clashed with CME on the ownership of 60 per cent of CET 21, the company holding the national license of TV Nova.
After Zelezny was removed as TV Nova's general director by CME in the summer of 2003, he broke off business relations with CNTS, stopping the flow of TV Nova's advertising revenues. Their dispute resulted in numerous court cases, including an international arbitration case that led to an approximately US$353 million fine for the Czech Republic for failing to protect Lauder's investment (from Zelezny, who is the holder of the broadcasting license).
According to reports, under Zelezny's leadership the station's news programming was biased in favour of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and the Social Democrats (CSSD), but since Zelezny's departure, the station's programming has become more impartial and balanced.
However, in January 2004, a Prague court declared that Zelezny continues to be the majority owner of the broadcasting license and is in control of the company. PPF announced it would appeal. Subsequent to the lost arbitration, the Parliament recalled the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting. The general view was that it had failed to act as public watchdog and instead acted to protect the interests of the ODS, the CSSD, and TV Nova.
Two Czech Television journalists, reporter Michal Kubal and cameraman Petr Klima, and one Czech Radio correspondent, Vit Pohanka, were kidnapped in Iraq on 12 April, were released on 16 April, and arrived in Prague on 18 April. On 16 April, Kubal said that the Iraqi taxi driver, who was supposed to take them from Baghdad to Amman, either by mistake or intentionally, turned off the designated route and "drove right into the hands of local gunmen," RFE/RL reported.
The US government plans to finance the construction of a new building for the Czech Republic broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). The relocation should take place by 2007. The radio station will be moved from the building of the former Federal Assembly in the centre of Prague for security reasons, but the new location has not yet been announced. The decision comes following the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001.
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